The Next Great Chapter of Exploration

Today I had the opportunity to share the stage with a true legend, Sen. John Glenn. We celebrated the 50th anniversary of his historic space flight – the first time an American had orbited Earth. The event was part of NASA’s ongoing series of Future Forums, in which we discuss possibilities — the things we’re already able to accomplish and the new capabilities for which we strive. I can think of no person better suited to discuss that broad continuum than John Glenn.

We were in John’s home state of Ohio where NASA’s Glenn Research Center is honoring its namesake by helping us pioneer the next generation of technologies to help us reach destinations farther in the solar system. These are technologies such as advanced communications; in-space propulsion; cryogenic fluids management; and power, energy storage, and conversion. The center’s work is part of our work to expand our nation’s capabilities to explore and reach new destinations including an asteroid and Mars.

John Glenn was there when NASA was racing to the stars as part of the Cold War. Later, John returned to NASA, for the second big wave of human spaceflight, the Space Shuttle Program, and showed us once again that we could broaden our sights – that older people could fly in space, something we’d long wanted to know more about as we contemplate longer term human presence in space aboard the International Space Station and in other parts of the solar system.

Each step along the way in the space program, we’ve learned vital things that have guided us to the next steps, maybe changed our minds about what was next. But always, we’ve been learning.

Today’s space program is vital and alive. It is full of men and women who are passionately dedicated to space and keeping America the leader in its exploration and expanding John’s legacy.

All around the nation there is tangible evidence of our progress: from the upcoming first-ever launch and berthing of a capsule to the Station by a private company, to the test firings of the J-2X engine that will power our deep space rocket’s upper stage, to the transformation of the Kennedy Space Center to a 21st Century Launch Complex able to support many science and eventually crewed flights.

We’re fortunate to have a stable NASA budget of $17.7 billion for FY2013, which President Obama submitted a week ago. It supports a robust space program capable of innovative improvements to benefit life here on Earth and ensure a bright future. It was an honor to hear from John Glenn, and to consider his wisdom along with those across the aerospace field today — the scientists and engineers, the students and educators at the Future Forum. All of us are opening the next great chapter of exploration today.

One More Step on the Commercial Path to Low Earth Orbit

The past couple of years have seen NASA and its industry partners make tremendous progress on the commercial capability for delivering cargo and transporting crew to low Earth orbit (LEO). It’s a path that will stop the out-sourcing of our missions to the space station and bring that work back home here to America by relying on U.S. companies to get the job done.

Our initial investments with the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program had two participants — SpaceX and Orbital Sciences — and our investments are paying off. From SpaceX’s launch, orbit, and successful recovery of a Dragon capsule in December 2010 to this year’s planned berthing of capsules at the International Space Station (ISS) by both SpaceX and Orbital, the milestones have been nothing short of historic.

Our commercial approach to space transportation has grown and now features partnerships with a diverse array of companies, both large and small, each with their own expertise and innovations. With the first two Commercial Crew Development rounds of awards, we’ve moved forward with partners who are working on different kinds of space transportation systems technologies — all with the aim of providing future robust crew transportation capabilities for our nation to reach low Earth orbit. We look forward to more outcomes from these partners and others in the future.

Now, we’ve launched our call for the next phase of our ambitious program to develop an integrated system for transporting crew to LEO and potentially astronauts to the ISS. Earlier today, we released an announcement for proposals that asks U.S. companies to bring us their best plans to achieve a crewed orbital flight demonstration by the middle of the decade. The resulting space act agreement awards will range from $300 – $500 million, and we anticipate multiple awards.

President Obama is working hard to create an American economy built to last, and NASA’s support of commercial innovation to reach low Earth orbit is helping to support these efforts by spurring new technological development and creating jobs and economic benefits for years to come.

Since the dawn of human space flight, private industry has been a critical partner in building the rockets and spacecraft that have helped NASA reach higher. But no longer can NASA afford to own and operate these expensive systems for travel to low Earth orbit. By handing this work off to U.S. industry, we are freed up to focus on the more difficult destinations including new missions of the future to asteroids and Mars. Also, we keep the work of transporting our astronauts to the ISS here in the United States and stop the outsourcing of this work to foreign providers.

The base period of the funded space act agreements of this next phase of our commercial space program are planned to start in August of this year and run to May 2014. Along with our ongoing work on a heavy lift rocket and Orion crew capsule to reach deep space, a recently graduated class of astronauts and a future class that has just submitted their preliminary applications, America’s human space flight aspirations – and the hardware to make them reality — are going strong.

For more information on the announcement and a pre-proposal conference Feb. 14, visit: